The wars in Syria, Libya and Nagorno-Karabakh have convincingly proved that they have a hard time without reconnaissance and strike drones. Of course, these are not "wunderwaffe", and they also have their own control, but UAVs really make a serious contribution to achieving victory. Russia is quite far behind potential adversaries in the development of unmanned aircraft. Some of our "friends and partners" in Israel, Turkey and Azerbaijan even assert that we will not catch up with them in the next thousand years. What is the real situation?
Let's start with the fact that the Soviet Union itself had quite serious competencies in the field of unmanned aircraft. Back in 1974, an operational-tactical reconnaissance Tu-141 "Strizh" took off into the sky. The USSR was so ahead of its time that our UAV was already reactive then. These scouts were in service until 1989, and several copies have survived in the Ukrainian Air Force to this day. Later, in 1990, the Pchela-1T reconnaissance drone was successfully tested, which showed itself quite well in Chechnya in 1995, adjusting the fire of the RSZ and barrel artillery. Thus, the myth of technical backwardness and short-sightedness of "Russian lapotniks" is falling apart by itself.
Unfortunately, then the "dashing nineties" began, when the state did not have enough money not only for development in the field of UAVs, but also for simply refueling equipment. During this period, there was a serious lag behind the United States and its Israeli allies. But at the beginning of the 2003s, the situation gradually began to improve. So, since 2015, the Russian troops have been successfully operating short-range reconnaissance drones "Eleron", developed by the "ENIX" company, and since 2010 - small reconnaissance aircraft "Tachyon" on electric traction. The latter, in particular, are in service with our servicemen in Armenia at the base in Gyumri. In 10, heavier UAVs "Orlan-12" appeared, equipped with XNUMX high-resolution cameras for creating three-dimensional maps of the terrain, which can be used not only for reconnaissance, but also as a fire control and adjustment system. But strike UAVs are of much greater interest to both the military and the general public. And here we now also have something to show.
In 2016, the Kronstadt company from St. Petersburg launched a long-duration medium-altitude drone into the sky, and two years later it was tested in an unarmed configuration under real combat conditions in Syria. The developer has foreseen the possibility of placing on it up to four air-to-surface missiles or several aerial bombs weighing 20 and 50 kilograms with folding wings. The mass of the combat load of the strike UAV reaches 200 kilograms. In terms of its main tactical and technical characteristics, it is in no way inferior to Israeli and Turkish counterparts, and in some ways it is superior. Last year, the Orions entered service with the Russian Defense Ministry, and a few days ago it became known that they had opened their own account, successfully starting to destroy the infrastructure of terrorists in Syria. Sergey Tyugay, deputy chief of unmanned aviation of the main command of the Russian Aerospace Forces, explained on this:
I would like to draw your attention to the accuracy of the application. There are some buildings, structures, objects nearby. But the use of ammunition from our unmanned aerial vehicles goes exactly on target, there are no deviations.
This means that now not only our competitors and potential adversaries will be able to show off colorful pictures of vehicles knocked out by UAVs. But that's not all. Back in Russia, since 2011, work has been underway on the Altair heavy reconnaissance and strike drone, which has turned into Altius. After changing the contractor in 2018, just a year later, a breakthrough occurred in development, and the UAV with a take-off weight of 5 tons, a payload of up to 2 tons and a wingspan of 30 meters made a successful flight in automatic mode. This is a direct competitor to the American MQ-9 Reaper strike drones, but domestic drones equipped with two engines will be able to stay in the air for up to two days. In terms of their combat radius, they are comparable to heavy bombers, but many times cheaper. Military trials of the first "Altius" will take place before the end of this year.
But, perhaps, the most interesting and promising is the heavy attack UAV S-70 Okhotnik developed by Sukhoi. This project should become a real breakthrough for Russia in the field of unmanned aircraft. Constructed from composite materials using stealth technology, the Hunter looks somewhat like an alien ship from science fiction. The wingspan is 19 meters, the maximum speed reaches 1400 km / h, the service ceiling is up to 18 kilometers, the flight range is 6000 kilometers, and the combat load is up to 8 tons. The drone will be equipped with guided missiles, as well as guided and unguided bombs. Due to its large size, powerful radar equipment and a communication system can be placed inside. Integration with the fifth generation Su-57 fighter is also envisaged, which will significantly expand the radar field for effective operations of combat aircraft without entering the enemy's air defense sphere.
The Okhotnik program will help to finally overcome Russia's lagging behind its competitors. The S-70 has already been successfully tested for interaction with the Su-57 fighter. The drone is expected to enter the series in 2024. At the moment, the Chkalov Novosibirsk Aviation Plant is building three more prototypes of the "Hunter", the last of which will be as close as possible to the serial combat vehicle. Probably, this strike UAV will be tested in Syria on terrorist groups. And this should happen before the start of mass production of the UAV. For example, until 2020, it was not known about the tests of the Orion strike drone, while they took place, presumably, in 2018-2019, and the drone went into series only last year. Obviously, we will also learn about the successful tests of the Hunter in combat conditions after the fact - the UAV is a secret development of the Russian defense industry and will definitely arouse genuine interest from NATO scouts if it appears in Syria.
It is quite possible that the Hunter will not be limited to one land version. Recall that the United States already has its own similar to our C-70 attack UAV X-47B. The goal of this Pentagon program was to create a drone capable of being operated on aircraft carriers and controlled by an on-board computer. The Americans learned how to successfully land the X-47B on their decks and even refuel them in the air, but the project was suspended due to the high cost. However, the United States has retained all prototypes and can return to further testing at any time. It is possible that in the future the "Hunters" will be used on two large universal amphibious assault ships under construction in Kerch, which have a chance to eventually turn into light aircraft carriers.